by Albert Liaw
Autocrossing, for readers who missed last months "Street Legal" story, is a type of auto racing where competitors race one at a time through a race track marked with pylons on an empty parking lot. Lap times are compared with the win awarded to the racer with the fastest track time.
I have recently had the great pleasure of attending a local autocross event held by the Alberta Solo Association. Having never attended an autocross event before, I was in for a pleasant surprise. Before arriving, I expected to find myself amongst a posse of mechanic lingo speaking gear heads. Upon my arrival, my preconceptions were thankfully misguided. What I encountered was something akin to attending a little league game. Friendly people, families and friends in the pursuit of wholesome fun.
Courtesy Alberta Solo Association
Autocrossing is an exhilarating experience for both novice and experienced drivers.
When you go to a car race, you expect to find "Johnny Racer" decked out in sponsor decaled regalia going through his tech inspection with the pit crew. At the autocross, I found 16 year-old Tiffany Rolls receiving last minute instructions on how to navigate the S-turns; At an auto race, you expect to see multi-thousand dollar race tuned, fire breathing cars. At the autocross, I found Keith and his nephew Ryan driving a 1980 something Chev-type family sedan. Don't get me wrong, there were some truly race bred machines like Jamie Fox's modified MG Midget and a lean mean Saleen Mustang, but the point is that autocrossers come in all shapes and sizes and because of the classification rules, any car can enter.
The world of auto racing has great names like Andretti, Unser, Petty, Gordon and more. Autocross has "the grape." The grape is a 1970 Datsun 1200 resurrected to live its remaining years as a race car for driver Mark Fussell. The entire interior is gutted except for the driver seat. The car is still powered by a stock 1400cc engine barely pushing 110 HP but with an anorexic weigh-in of l500 lbs, this car can fly. However, the most unique feature of the grape has to be the purple paint job, hence the name --"The Grape."
Wholesome family fun aside, autocrossing is as ultra competitive sport that offers a thrill per second adrenaline rush. To fully appreciate an autocross event, you have to feel the lateral G-forces from inside a race vehicle. So I was told, and before I knew what happened, I was white knuckling Ian Basford's passenger seat of his red race modified Datsun 510 preparing for my first autocross run as his co-pilot. 3-2-1 Blast-off! Zero to sixty whips by "way too fast" as we lay rubber towards the first series of S-turns. Left-right-left-right; I feel like a Raggedy Ann doll in the hands of a 5 year-old high on Jolt Cola.
Next we enter into turn 1 which is quickly followed by turn 2. The sensation you feel when performing a high-speed turn is an exhilaratingly unique experience. Most of us have felt the rush of a roller coaster or a K-days ride and are familiar with the inertial feeling of lateral G-forces. However, when you're on a roller coaster, you are instinctively aware that you will complete the turn (knock on wood). Turning in a car adds a certain element of uncertainty that elevates the excitement to another level. Although I was confident in my drivers abilities, the high pitched screeching tires, redlined engine and increasing velocity infused me with a healthy dose of oh sh$%!
Off to the next series of pylons we go and once again Ian demonstrates his mastery of man over machine as we slalom the rows of pylons in a heartbeat. By this point in the race, I've fallen in love with the sport and find myself eagerly anticipating the next obstacle. Fear has been replaced by a hunger for speed. After another ride as a passenger, I was invited to drive the course myself.
The best description I can offer of my adventure is that autocrossing is like playing the best video game of my life. It was virtual reality at its best--perhaps because it was real. The reason I compare it to a video game is because auto sports, for the most part, are dangerous at best. There are often huge consequences for making a mistake. Video games on the other hand are virtually risk free and autocrossing is fairly safe as well. With nothing to hit other than a rubber pylon, the risk to vehicle damage or personal injury is minimal. As far as auto sports go, autocrossing is fairly safe. An ASA member revealed to me that in 13 years of autocrossing, he has never witnessed an injury and has only seen one vehicle sustain serious damage.
Autocrossing is truly a sport for almost anyone. All you need is a car and a drivers license. If you are interested in finding out more about autocrossing and upcoming events, visit the ASA website here or email the club here.